Eben Moglen Steps Down From Free Software Foundation

(Via an InformationWeek article) It looks like Eben Moglen has stepped down from the FSF. From the article:

The Free Software Foundation has lost one of its best-known leaders.

Board member Eben Moglen announced this week that he is stepping down from the board and his position as general counsel now that the latest draft of GPLv3 has been released. A spokesman for the Software Freedom Law Center said that the two organizations will continue working together. Moglen gave a keynote speech at the MySQL Conference and Expo in Santa Clara, Calif., Wednesday and spoke as a leader of the Software Freedom Law Center during a phone interview afterward.

Moglen said he discussed his plans with others at the foundation before posting a blog explaining his reasons for leaving. FSF president Richard Stallman could not be reached immediately for comment, but Moglen said he left on good terms.

“This is not the consequence of disagreement about anything,” he said during an interview Wednesday.

Moglen said timing and other commitments drove his decision and that Stallman remains a friend.

“I have my own young, growing nonprofit to take care of,” he said. “We have a long alliance on working on things that we both consider very important: free software, technological liberty in the 21st century, and free society. I don’t think that can be changed, and I certainly don’t think this does it.”

While interesting that he didn’t stay through the completion of the GPLv3 process, it’s good to see that he left of amicable terms. He’ll surely be missed. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Eben speak a number of times and it’s always a worthwhile event. This is great news for any student at Columbia who now has a chance to get into one of his classes. Good luck with the SFLC Eben!

–jeremy

GPLv3, Linux and GPLv2 Compatibility

Allison continues her fantastic coverage of the GPLv3 process in this post.

A third possibility is that the Linux kernel developers will decide that it’s not worth the hassle and just accept the GPLv3. I suspect that this is what the FSF is hoping will happen. Depending on the changes in the next two drafts of the GPLv3, it still might. But, it’s not looking likely that the kernel developers will yield. Frankly, if I were in the kernel developers shoes, I wouldn’t either. The GPLv3 serves to further the goals of the FSF, but the current draft actually hinders Linus’ goals and the goals of Linux in general.

Another possibility, complete speculation on my part, is that the Linux Foundation becomes more than just a loose consortium of companies sponsoring Linux kernel development. It becomes the copyright holder for the Linux kernel, not taking copyright assignments from contributors like the FSF, but copyright licenses like Apache does, so the kernel developers still hold their copyright on the code. The Linux Foundation releases a license with basically the same terms as the GPLv2, but without the legal ambiguities, obscure language, and anachronisms. Like the GPL, this license is copyleft. Like the GPL, this license requires the release of modified versions under the same license. This license clearly defines the concepts of linking and modified works, making it easier for Linux distributors to be sure that their segmented distribution trees are in compliance. Over time, more and more projects currently released under the GPL adopt the Linux license, because it is more legally precise and more comprehensible to the average developer than either the GPLv2 or GPLv3. Eventually, Linux distributions switch over to the Linux license, leaving only a small branch of GPLv3 (or v4 or v5) code to be downloaded separately (if the user chooses to do so).

It had occurred to me that it might be nice if the FSF did a sort of updated draft of the GPLv2 that included very minor improvements while not introducing the major fundamental shifts of the GPLv3. It’s clear they wouldn’t do this now, as it would hinder the adoption of the GPLv3. I hadn’t thought of the possibility of someone else improving on the GPLv2. Seems unlikely, but maybe just the thought of it will smooth some things over in the GPLv3 process.

–jeremy

GPLv3, Microsoft/Novell language

A quick follow up to this post, Allison Randal has posted a good piece of some of the GPL modifications over at the O’Reilly Radar. From the post:

The core of the added language is:

You may not convey a covered work if you are a party to an arrangement with a third party that is in the business of distributing software, under which you make payment to the third party based on the extent of your activity of conveying the work, and under which the third party grants, to any of the parties who would receive the covered work from you, a patent license (a) in connection with copies of the covered work conveyed by you, and/or copies made from those, or (b) primarily for and in connection with specific products or compilations that contain the covered work, which license does not cover, prohibits the exercise of, or is conditioned on the non-exercise of any of the rights that are specifically granted to recipients of the covered work under this License.

Translating that into plain English, it says: If you distribute GPLd software and make a deal with another company who also distributes (some kind of) software, we will stop you from distributing the GPLd software if:
a) you pay the other company
b) the deal mentions the GPLd software
c) you get a patent license
d) the patent license mentions the GPLd software
e) the patent license has more limited terms than the GPL license on the software

She then goes through some of her objections with the terms. The part that I most agree with and have covered before is:

My fourth objection is embodied in the old adage “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” The FSF had success in the past accomplishing one goal with a license, so now they’re trying to accomplish a broad range of goals using the same tool. But a license really isn’t the best tool to accomplish some of these goals. Particularly, it’s not a good tool for attempting to abolish software patents or prevent companies from making patent agreements.

A license is simply not the place for every battle. That being said, it’s very good to see things moving in the right direction. The FSF seems to be taking feedback very seriously and this draft has been received much better than previous ones. I’m hopeful that when the final draft hits, most items will have been ironed out.

–jeremy